Forget Diet And Exercise, Genes Determine Long Life

Diet, exercise and other life choices may not be the most crucial factor in determining whether you make it to age 95 or beyond. 

New research finds that many extremely old people appear to have indulged in poor health habits during their younger years. 

“Millions of Americans are living into their 80s, 90s and even past 100,” explains Jesse Slome, executive director of the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance.  The national organization focuses on educating consumers about the importance of planning for long-term care.

“The research is welcome news for those of us who have difficulty resisting temptation,” Slome notes.  “But of course, your lifestyle choices matter so I wouldn’t drop the gym membership quite yet.”  According to the scientists, genes seem to provide an extra boost to those who end up living the longest. 

They note that the genetic component that allows people to survive into extreme old age is probably a very powerful one.  In their report, they explain that genes and hereditary factors even counteract the effects of unhealthy lifestyle choices. 

The study focused on the genes of extremely old people living independently at ages 95 to 109.  Researchers  asked them to recall things such as their weight, height, alcohol consumption, smoking and their physical activity at age 70.  Those participating were also asked whether they ate a low-calorie, low-fat or low-salt diet at that age. 

All the subjects were Ashkenazi Jews, who share a similar genetic heritage.  The researchers then compared the responses to those from a group of over 3,000 people who took part in a survey in the 1970s. At the time, they were at about the same ages as the elderly subjects who appear in the new study. 

The scientists found that our centenarians by and large did not adhere to any specific healthful diet more than the other population did. It was the same for smoking and exercise. Only 43 percent of men aged 95 and older, for example, reported engaging in regular exercise of moderate intensity, compared with 57 percent of men in the comparison group. 

However, there was one interesting difference. Researchers found that although men and women aged 95 and older were just as likely to be overweight as their counterparts in the general population, the centenarians were significantly less likely to become obese. 

One-third reported a history of family longevity, while 20 percent believed that physical activity also played a role in their long life. Others attributed a positive attitude (19 percent), a busy or active life (12 percent), less smoking and drinking (15 percent), good luck (8 percent), and religion or spirituality (6 percent) to their centenarian status.

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